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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Flu season is approaching, and state health officials are encouraging Arkansans to go ahead and get their shots before peak flu season.Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, and Arkansas Secretary of Health, Dr. Jose Romero, said last year was a milder flu season due to masking and social distancing practices.“Now we're back in school, people are back at work, not as many people are wearing masks or taking the same precautions,” Dillaha said. “We anticipate we'll have more spread of the flu this year, and of course, we still have the spread of COVID.”The flu shot is recommended for people six months and older, with no past severe allergic reactions to the shot. Dillaha said it needs to be taken care of by late October.“So that they have built their immunity before we really get into winter, and the possible circulation of flu in our state,” Dillaha said.Dillaha said for those who haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet, they can get both the flu and COVID shot at the same time.“The great benefit of both of those vaccines, of course, is preventing severe disease, keeping people out of the hospital if they're unlucky enough to get the flu or COVID-19,” Dillaha said.Last year, Arkansas reported 23 flu deaths—and Dillaha said some of those people had COVID as well. She fears COVID-19 cases could peak again during winter time, and health officials are concerned about hospital capacity amid the peak of flu season.“We don't want to see a confluence of both influenza hospitalizations and COVID hospitalizations at the same time, that could stress our available beds at this time,” Romero said.Dilllaha said both vaccines are especially important for people who are high risk for severe disease with flu or COVID-19. That includes pregnant women, people with chronic health problems like diabetes or asthma and those 65 and older.The flu shot is also very important for school aged children. Health officials are urging parents to keep their kids home if they’re showing any symptoms of respiratory illness and help avoid schools having to shut down this year.“School children are very good at spreading respiratory viruses among themselves,” Dillaha said. “The more kids in the school who are vaccinated, the less likely that (a shutdown) is to happen, there's less absenteeism.”The Arkansas Department of Health is hosting flu vaccine clinics starting next week. According to a press release from the ADH, each county health unit in Arkansas will be hosting a community flu vaccine clinic, which is typically a day-long event when the health unit and numerous community volunteers come together to provide flu vaccine to as many people as possible.The shot is free, but those with insurance should bring their cards with them. Those interested should contact their nearest health unit for more information. That information can be found at www.healthy.arkansas.gov.After the flu clinics, the vaccines will also be available through the department of health’s local health units in every county—free of charge, along with the COVID-19 vaccine.